“The fantastic car” (Knight Rider) turns 40

Some technologies that are current (or soon to be) were anticipated by one of the best television series of the 1980s. On September 26, 1982, NBC made history with the broadcast of the pilot episode on TV.

It all started with a very simple idea, to make a modern reinterpretation of “The Lone Ranger” (1949-1957) with a vigilante who had the help of a car that could talk. In the pilot episode we see Michael Long’s transformation into Michael Knight after surviving serious injuries from one of the “bad guys,” thanks to the Law and Order Foundation. He received a new identity after faking his death.

The organization returned his 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, duly modified, to equip it with artificial intelligence, multiple sensors, voice synthesis, full autonomous driving capability, ultra-resistant armor or superb motorization for the time. It was a waste of imagination that surprised the character himself when he realized how much his car had changed.

Michael Knight became a defender of the innocent, the defenseless and the weak within a world of criminals operating outside the law.

This car, immortalized as KITT, was based on a model that had just hit the market. General Motors was initially reluctant to use their cars for a television series, but ended up giving their arm to twist until selling them to the producer at a rate of one dollar each. And during the filming, several unsuccessful units in jumps or stunts had to be replaced.

The technological display that the car boasted was something more than science fiction in 1982, it went beyond what is easily imagined. The audience at the time (and in successive reruns) was amazed in color with the digital instrumentation and television screens on the dashboard. It even had a steering wheel yokelike some Tesla, Toyota or Lexus.

KITT he could carry on a fluid conversation both with Michael Knight and with other people with whom he interacted. What’s more, Knight could communicate in the car with a device that today we would call smart watch or sports bracelet, which can allow us to talk to Alexa or Siri, but it is not the same.

Also, the car could make decisions on its own, such as going to the rescue of Knight or whoever was needed, as well as perform stunts such as going on two wheels (sideways), hitting impossible jumps and even cushioning the impact of a bomb with the armor of its undersides. It was something absolutely impressive and several generations attest to it.

We swallowed very crafty and crude special effects when there were no pauses on the televisions

The characteristic red light scanner on the front was a tribute to a 1978 series and one of its characters, “Battlestar Galactica”, with which it shared producer: Glen Larson. A sound effect was also reused when Michael Knight used the “Turbo-Boost” feature.

The series remained on the air for four seasons, from September 1982 to April 1986, paralyzing all the work that was under way for its continuation. There were slight changes in KITT throughout the four seasons.and surely the most fans of the series know them by running.

In total there were 90 episodes and its soundtrack based on analog synthesizers became unforgettable

Of course, for General Motors, the publicity of its new Pontiac was priceless and it became a cult car, to the point that there are people who have left real fortunes to have a well-made replica of KITT, both outside and inside. , something that also takes a lot of patience and painful customs imports from the US.

back to 2022, not everything that the series anticipated has become reality. Autonomous driving, for example, is still a long way from a Level 5 in which a car can go from point A to point B on its own without any human intervention. Artificial intelligence is still very limited and certainly lacks autonomous decision-making.

What to use hydrogen as fuel it is something that happens, it has happened, but it is far from usual. At that time it was not quite science fiction because there were already prototypes with an engine adapted to run on hydrogen -they were not fuel cells-, serve as an example a Chevrolet driven by Jack Nicholson in 1978.

Digital screens and instruments are already more common, as well as the “Turbo-Boost” function of some high-power electric cars, but it must be remembered that they do not jump (and if they do, they get destroyed). Perhaps, in part, the series inspired many children who ended up working in the automobile industry and turning Glen Larson’s vision into reality. He deserves credit for having seen it so soon.

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“The fantastic car” (Knight Rider) turns 40


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